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El Paso County commissioner calls on Maketa to take leave or resign, new allegations made

By Lance Benzel Published: May 27, 2014 0

Embattled Sheriff Terry Maketa on Tuesday said in a statement that he intends to complete his third term in office, rejecting a request by El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton that he resign or place himself on unpaid leave.

"Sheriff Terry Maketa will not be commenting on the litigation, the allegations or the investigations," the statement read. "Sheriff Maketa is committed to a fair and impartial investigation based on facts and law and asks all responsible parties to respect the legal process."

Littleton called on the sheriff to step down earlier Tuesday at the commissioners meeting, citing a "lack of integrity" in his office. She said she was speaking for herself and not the board.

The El Paso County board said in a statement it will decide at a meeting Thursday whether to vote for censure "and/or demand for resignation."

Maketa is an elected official and can only be removed from office by a recall vote.

Littleton's call for an immediate replacement came as more allegations piled up against the term-limited sheriff - this time in the form of an employment complaint by Cliff Porter, a patrol deputy, alleging the sheriff created a hostile work environment in which women were regarded as "sexual playthings" and rewarded with promotions for sexual favors.

Porter's letter also described a series of retaliatory encounters with the sheriff's commanders, naming Undersheriff Paula Presley, Investigations Division commander John San Agustin and Law Enforcement Bureau Chief Al Harmon as among those in league with Maketa.

"Sheriff Maketa has been so successful in avoiding liability for his widely known bad actions that some El Paso County officials have nicknamed Sheriff Maketa 'the Teflon Don' and 'Teflon Terry,'" Porter's attorney, Erin Jensen, alleged in a written complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The May 26 notice to the EEOC - exclusively made available to The Gazette - is a required first step before filing a Civil Rights lawsuit. It followed a May 12 EEOC complaint by three Sheriff's Office commanders, who alleged repeated sexual impropriety, discrimination and violation of the civil rights of those who work in the office.

In his complaint, Porter seeks "not less than $500,000" in damages, the letter says.

Among the new allegations against Maketa is that he sought to bully Porter, an elected delegate in the El Paso County Republican Assembly, into casting his vote for John Anderson, the sheriff's preferred candidate in a three-way race to succeed him.

The letter describes an incident in which Porter was called in to Maketa's office on his day off and berated by Maketa and Undersheriff Presley for "political statements" - what Porter called an "excuse" to coerce him to change his vote.

"This verbal abuse continued for almost four hours and included Sheriff Maketa physically threatening Mr. Porter by getting within inches of Mr. Porter's face," the complaint says.

During a meeting with a Gazette reporter on Tuesday, Harmon and San Agustin accused Porter of fabricating details in his account, saying the meeting lasted no longer than 50 minutes and that Maketa sat 10 feet from the deputy throughout.

"The whole conversation was recorded," said San Agustin.

Porter was confronted not over political comments, they charged, but complaints he made to another detective about ongoing efforts to search for Kara Nichols, an aspiring model from El Paso County who went missing in October 2012.

They said Porter complained the case was receiving undue attention and that a letter should be sent to the family listing it as a closed case.

"I never said anything about voting for Anderson or not voting for Anderson," said Harmon.

"The only person making it political is Porter," said San Agustin, who characterized Porter's comments as "cancerous" to the office. At the time of the recording, Porter was a patrol deputy and two detectives were responsible for follow-ups on the Nichols case, he said.

San Agustin disputed that anyone was "forced" to report Porter's comments, as Porter's complaint alleged, saying that the detectives investigating the case were troubled by his statements and relayed their concerns to commanders.

"That doesn't surprise me at all," Jensen said of their claims. "I don't think they're going to admit that they flat-out berated him for four hours over his First Amendment rights."

Porter couldn't be reached for a response.

In addressing the El Paso County Commission on Tuesday, Porter's attorney called on Commissioners Sallie Clark and Amy Lathen and County Attorney Amy Folsom to recuse themselves from any involvement in an ongoing employment probe related to allegations against Maketa, citing their friendships with the sheriff and among each other.

Jensen charged that Folsom counseled Sheriff Maketa on how to conceal his affair with Dorene Cardarelle, the sheriff's office comptroller.

The friendships among Lathen, Clark and Folsom have created the impression among sheriff's employees that the trio favor the sheriff, he said.

As a result, Jensen said, "many witnesses and victims will likely not feel comfortable coming to the board."

District Attorney Dan May and Bill Elder, the candidate who appears poised to succeed Maketa, were among those in the audience at Tuesday's meeting.

The board voted unanimously to break for an executive session to discuss media reports, employment complaints filed with the EEOC and Jensen's request for recusals.

After returning to open session, it announced an addendum to Thursday's previously scheduled meeting to mull censure against Maketa.

The board said it also was working to set up a hotline to allow complainants direct access to the independent investigator assigned to the case.

In comments at the meeting, Folsom said that an outside law firm, Sherman and Howard, has been retained to investigate the employment complaints against the sheriff and to determine potential liability.

A different attorney will be retained to represent Maketa, Folsom said.

Clark denied any wrongdoing and said that she forwarded a 2010 complaint about Maketa to the sheriff as a matter of "courtesy" but also sent the complaint to the District Attorney's Office.

Both Lathen and Clark said they had not previously been made aware of the allegations by sheriff's deputies about their boss or his commanders.

"I have never been contacted by a sheriff's employee about these types of issues," Clark said, in comments echoed by Lathen.

In a brief interview with The Gazette, Lathen said she would not recuse herself from the ongoing probe.

"Of course not. I have a job to do for the county," she said, bristling that the basis for the recusal request was that she was "friends" with Clark and Folsom.

"I'm a friend of everybody," she said. "Are you kidding me?"

Folsom declined to address Jensen's allegations, including the claim that Maketa called her personally for advice after Cardarelle became injured in a skiing accident while she and the sheriff were on a "lovers' getaway."

Controversy has enveloped the Sheriff's Office following allegations published in The Gazette that Maketa has had sexual relationships with three subordinates and promoted them to top jobs, relying on threats and intimidation to keep his actions quiet.

Those subordinates - Undersheriff Paula Presley, Cardarelle and Tiffany Huntz, a dispatch supervisor - have denied inappropriate relationships. All remain on duty, said El Paso County spokesman Dave Rose.

The commissioners last week said they launched an investigation into the allegations after they received a formal complaint May 12 about the sheriff. The FBI and 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office also have indicated they are looking into the allegations.

Rose said the county technology workers took steps at that time to preserve the data on the sheriff's computer systems at the request of the independent investigator.

"Basically, they took data snapshots of everything they have," Rose said.

Jensen said he represents others besides Porter, but declined to name other clients.

He said any involvement by Lathen, Folsom and Clark in the ongoing probe would be "wildly inappropriate."

Littleton said she decided to call for Maketa's removal in light of the allegations, saying that the prospect of further fires and floods in El Paso County require a "good, effective leader."

"There's a lack of integrity and a lack of respect within the Sheriff's Office right now," Littleton said. "When there is that potential conflict of interest, it is incumbent on (him), in humility, to just step down."

In his statement, Maketa said he intends to complete his last seven months in office and pledged that his deputies "will continue to perform their duties and serve with the utmost professionalism and level of care the citizens of El Paso County deserve."

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